Found a very fine oldtime diner in St. Louis this morning, and indulged in a breakfast of Polish sausage and pancakes.
As you can see, it's been around since 1948 yet I have not ventured there before in my 25 or so years in St. Louis.
Why? Because it's deep in the black part of town, the part that white people fear is full of gun-toting drug dealers. Looking around the neighborhood, all the signs of poverty and disadvantage are there. Boarded-up houses, endless package liquor stores and payday loan offices. Iron bars on the windows. Decrepit thirty year old cars and young black men standing on street corners.
A look at the crime statistics will tell you that there are murder hotspots throughout the decaying city blocks just south of this restaurant.
Yet we went this morning and were not afraid. Afterwards, I wondered why. I came to the conclusion that it was a sense of wanting to explore the unknown coupled with the knowledge that crime in these areas is almost invariably internecine, or involves outsiders looking for drugs and already marked for trouble. Furthermore, most people living in these areas are not involved in crime – they just want to live a good life, and part of that is a cheap and good breakfast restaurant. The clientele of the restuarant was almost wholly African-American, so much so that I felt something of an outsider. Yet the staff – both white and black – made us feel very welcome. I know that most of my white friends here in St. Louis would be too uncomfortable or afraid to go this most friendly of restaurants.
Funny how such a simple thing as going out to breakfast can address such deep issues. I came away once again reminded of how many constraints we put on ourselves when we succumb to fear and ignorance.